LINCOLN CITY — Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue said a “whirlwind year” for agriculture will be followed by more of the same, as the state’s and nation’s farmers face continuing challenges over water, pesticides, GMOs, labor and other issues.
Speaking at the bureau’s annual convention on an appropriately blustery day at the Oregon Coast, Bushue said agriculture is often at odds with regulatory agencies, lawmakers, activist groups and a public that either doesn’t understand it or wants to change it.
“People love farmers but they do not trust agriculture,” Bushue said. “We have a battle on our hands with public perception. We have become the scapegoat for the evils of agriculture.”
Bushue said the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to extend its authority over waterways, for example, “may be the most dangerous threat U.S. agriculture faces.”
“There’s a stream in Arizona that’s had water in it for seven minutes in the last seven years,” and the EPA wants to declare in a navigable waterway, he said.
The bureau must work within the political structure and accept that it won’t get its way with the Legislature every time, he said. Policy decisions are not always clear and easy, he said, and in the upcoming Oregon legislative session “We will not be able to be all things to all people.”
Bushue praised the efforts of bureau members who battled against the mandatory GMO labeling measure in the November election and are trying to overturn the “draconian” biotech crop ban in Jackson County.
The organization’s work with Oregon’s congressional delegation to say “not only no, but hell no” to the U.S. Department of Labor in the “hot goods” blueberry case was a high point of the year, Bushue said.
On other issues, Bushue said he is concerned about divisions among farmers and “attempts to protect one market at expense of another” — an apparent reference to wine grape growers complaining that spray drift from other producers has damaged vineyards.
“Somehow we have descended into discussions of, ‘My crop is more valuable than yours,’” he said. “We are better than that, we have to be.”
Bushue also said the bureau is facing declining numbers, with county seats unfilled nationally and in Oregon. The organization must work harder to connect with young farmers and to help members bring issues forward and share information, he said.
“I am always optimistic and excited about the future of agriculture, it’s a great place to be,” he said.